For the last 400 million years, sharks have been killing. They dominate the ocean, terrain that covers 70 percent of our planet, but that has been mapped less than Mars. When humans beings wade out or dive into its waters, we might as well be entering a foreign planet—a place where we can’t move as fast, a place where ingesting the substance that comes up to our necks will kill us, a place where our jurisdiction as the peak members of the food chain ends.
While the ocean terrifies vaguely for the unseen depths it contains, sharks frighten specifically because they are the scariest thing concealed in those depths. But for a film, the emotional weight of the fear that comes before trumps the gore of the actual attack. Because once a shark decides to kill, it’s all over in a matter of seconds. But before they do, they place us in the unfamiliar position of complete helplessness. All we can do is hope as they circle nearer and nearer that they won’t do what evolution has made them perfect at.
They possess a body made almost solely of muscle, tracking skills that can sense blood from three miles away and bone-crushing jaws lined with steak knives. And yet, they’re constantly gussied up in films. They’re placed into windstorms. They’re made prehistorically huge. They’re genetically engineered to be hyper-intelligent. And on and on. And quite frankly, it’s a little lazy.
Making a shark more deadly than it is naturally is like adding Kevin Durant to the 73-9 Warriors. It might make things more spectacular on-paper, but the overall effect gets diminished because the original version was already so terrifying and exciting. A good way to do this is to get nuts with the circumstances in which the characters face the sharks—and dropping Mandy Moore in a shark cage to the ocean floor in 47 Meters Down (out in theatres now) ranks already among the best premises in this genre.
So consider this list chum. Starting with number 10, I want to crown the film that best utilizes the already impressive features of the ocean’s deadliest predator. And spoiler alert, Jaws is number two.